Gone are the days when flying was an elegant (or even tolerable) experience – at least in economy class. If you can afford it or if you can find a creative way to make it happen, book yourself in Business Class when flying long distances to your cruise. Business Class is where the vacation begins. You’ll experience faster check-in, faster security clearance (at some airports), lounge access, comfortable business class seats, and most times, refined dining and service.
Of course, you’ll need to weigh the benefits of business class airfare against the costs, but if it’s within reason, book yourself in a premium cabin to begin your vacation before arriving at the ship. Alternatively, book what the airlines are calling Economy Comfort, Economy Plus or Economy Extra, which can be had for a reasonable incremental cost (and often for free with certain loyalty programs).
That’s all fine and good, you say, but how can you book yourself in a business class seat without breaking the bank? Whenever I can I use points that I have accumulated to book my Business Class air. I accumulate those points through credit card offers or through purchasing the points outright when they are on sale – and only when they are on sale. I’ve written about that extensively in First Class Flying Tips.
When it is not an option to use points to book an upgraded class of cabin, I head over to Google Flights. I wrote briefly about Google Flights in my post Airline Ticket Hacks: Cheap Business Class Tickets To Europe. This post explains how I use Google Flights in detail to save on Business Class flights. At the bottom of this post, you’ll also find a video that shows how I used Google Flights to find and book a Business Class seat for my upcoming trip to Europe.
I prefer using Google Flights to any other booking site, because of the flexibility it gives me in researching various scenarios. For example, I can easily search multi-city trips and change cites and/or dates quickly, thanks to the robust search engine that drives Google Flights.
Through Google Flight searches, it’s easy to find the cheapest fares for a specific flight, but by plugging in flexible dates as well as flexible cities, I can also land upon the best business class flight deals and save myself thousands of dollars simply by shifting dates or cities, tasks made easy with the search-engine giant.
As an example, I searched Business Class fares from Asheville to Budapest, returning from Munich in July. I’m traveling to the Danube in July to witness the naming of AmaWaterways’ new AmaMagna and to cruise on her for seven nights, ending in Vilshofen, Germany.
To search for my flights, I selected Multi-City, 1 Passenger and Business Class. I then selected my destinations and dates. The first results using Google Flights turned up fares approaching $5,000. I knew I could do better. And I did. I cut the initial fare by more than $1,500 by pushing my return dates forward by two days, easy to do using Google Flights. I had the fare down to $3,300 and change, from $5,000 and change.
I also searched other cities that were about the same distance as Munich from Vilshofen, where our cruise ends. I saved another $500 by departing from Prague instead of Munich. Total cost for my Business Class ticket: $2,876, not bad.
Between searches on Google Flights, I would hold trips on American Airlines. Being able to hold a flight until midnight the next day was extremely helpful. With Delta, you can cancel within 24 hours, but that always makes me nervous as the amount is charged to my credit card and refunded when I cancel. It’s a similar situation with United, which offers 24-hour cancellation, and also Farelock, where you can pay to hold a ticket. American makes it easy. No credit credit card information to enter, no charges to the credit card and no monitoring my credit card account to make sure the refunded amount was indeed refunded. And no having to deal with customer service in case the refund wasn’t processed. That has happened before, and I would rather avoid the hassle and long waits on the phone.
Effectively, by putting my ticket hold with American, I was able to track prices to find cheap business class tickets. I spent a couple of weeks booking my July ticket for AmaMagna. That sounds like a lot of energy wasted, but I spent only a few minutes each day finding a ticket, putting it on hold, then putting a reminder in my calendar to either purchase the ticket on hold before midnight the next day or hold the ticket again for another 24 hours – or find another fare and put it on hold. Putting a new ticket on hold for 24 hours does require first canceling the ticket that is currently on hold. Otherwise, you’ll get an error indicating a double-booking.
Once, I find a fare and routing that I am happy with (meaning no long layovers and Business Class or First Class for all segments), I pay for the ticket with my Chase Sapphire Reserve card. I use this card because it comes with a lot of travel protection benefits that make it well worth the $450 annual fee. We’ve done numerous stories about protecting your travel by using the right credit card, recently in Avid Travel With Britton Frost – Travel Protection Through Credit Cards & More and also in my post Airline Ticket Hacks: Cheap Business Class Tickets To Europe.
At the time of booking, I also choose my seats. I have a strategy with that too, choosing window seats, for both the view and for not being stepped over each time the passenger beside me needs to get up to go to the bathroom. On the outgoing transatlantic flight, I also choose a seat closest to the galley. I’ve found that the difference between being served dinner at the front of the business class section and at the rear of the business class section can be as much as 45 minutes. That cuts into valuable sleep time on a flight that usually takes fewer than eight hours from the U.S. East Coast to most destinations in Europe.
On the return flight, I do the opposite, taking a seat near the rear. Why? Even though I have Global Entry, which provides expedited transit through U.S. border control, I like being near the rear in order to be one of the first off the plane. Sometimes connections are tight, and a few minutes makes the difference between catching the next flight and missing it.
I am sure there are things I could do better, and readers will let me know if that is the case. I welcome your comments, suggestions and strategies. The airlines have made it clear that we all need strategies to make international air travel a more pleasant experience than it aspires to be. As I said in the beginning, gone are the days of glamorous air travel, even for those seated up front.